This is an exercise in subjectivity. I think too often many of us (especially myself) get caught up in thinking that there is an “objective” way to rank, appraise, evaluate, or even understand works of art. It happens in film (“well this movie deserves the best picture oscar because it’s objectively the best made movie of the year”), in painting and what I’ll call the visual arts (“van Gogh is objectively the best artist of all time because of the way he builds on and melds the styles prominent at the time”), and of course in music (“Slash is the best guitarist because his solos are incredibly fast and require more dexterity and virtuosic prowess than any other guitarist”). The problem is that as badly as we want to officially and objectively rank and rate various forms of art, art is something that will forever be entirely subjective because of its very nature.
Stack up Slash (Guns ‘n Roses, Velvet Revolver, Slash); Albert Hammond Jr. (The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr.); and Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) against each other as guitarists and despite the arguments that can be made that may seem objective, which one you argue is the best guitarist is completely subjective. When we attempt to give “objective” reasons why one is the best, all we’re doing is saying what we like in a guitarist and what we think is most important in guitarists. In no way can we ever make an objective and definitive statement that one is better than the other. Slash is known for his incredibly quick solos, use of a wah pedal, and blues-inspired composing. You could argue that solos are the true measure of a guitarists talent and because they require expert skill and intricate knowledge of keys and scales. By that token, you might say that Slash is the best of the three because his solos are distinctly faster and more prominent than either of the two others. But all you’re really communicating there is that you subjectively value solos.
You could just as easily make the case that Kurt Cobain is the best of the three because of how revolutionary and original his guitar style was and how much impact it had on music for decades to come. There you’re saying you value guitarists that break previous molds of playing and whose style becomes popular enough for people to want to copy it. Similarly, you could say that Albert Hammond Jr. is the best of the three because of his varying guitar sounds and styles, his cohesive work with Nick Valensi to create The Strokes signature sound, and his ability to both create memorable hooks and riffs and play intricate solos only when it fits the song. As you can see, really any argument for who or what the “best” is in an art can be dressed up to seem objective, but any “objective” argument is simply communicating what a certain person values in that form of art. One person could say “Crossroad Blues” by Robert Johnson is the best song ever, and another person could say “Oops, I Did It Again” by Brittany Spears is the best song ever and at the end of the day nobody can prove either of them right or wrong.
This is all a reminder to myself as much as it is a discussion with whoever might choose to read this, because I’m a person that has always gotten caught up with objectivity in art. I’ve made lists on who “objectively” the best musicians are, or what “objectively” the best movies are. It took me a long time to realize just what I’ve been talking about, that there is no objectivity in art, and that’s exactly what makes it so beautiful. So here it is, my incredibly subjective list of the Top 10 Best Songs Ever. It’s worth noting that while both are inherently subjective, this list does not look like my “Top 10 Favorite Songs” list would (which I might post after this). That list is fairly fluid and doesn’t involve any analysis. It simply ranks songs by how much I enjoy them. While enjoyment is absolutely a factor here, and while again this list is just as subjective as a favorite songs list, it is more analytic and a little more set in stone for me. Like I alluded to before, this list is going to take into account the things I value in music, including but not limited to guitar playing, originality, composition, lyrics, and replay value. So they’re both subjective lists, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same list. That said, here we go: Continue reading